You could conceivably explore New Mexico for a month or so, seeking out ever more obscure towns, but two weeks gives just enough time to appreciate the distinct character of the cities and enjoy a few bumpy back roads. This itinerary involves a lot of driving to cover the state’s most scenic routes, but you’ll still have opportunities for leisurely lunches and other out-of-car activities. If you want to cut down on the driving, you could fly out of El Paso, Texas, about one hour south of Las Cruces and substantially closer to White Sands—in this case, stay in Albuquerque for the first few days, then head out to explore.
Arrive at Albuquerque’s Sunport airport; transfer to a hotel in the city or one of the rural-feeling bed-and-breakfasts in the North Valley. Have drinks and dinner in Nob Hill.
Visit the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, then head west to Acoma Pueblo. Lunch in Grants and stay the night in Gallup.
Get an early start for the long, bumpy ride along the back road to Chaco Culture National Historical Park. When you’re done exploring, grab a late lunch at El Bruno’s in Cuba, then take Highway 96 over the mountains to Abiquiu, where you’ll spend the night.
If you like hiking, explore Abiquiu’s red rocks at Ghost Ranch or drive down the road to Bandelier National Monument. If you prefer the city, head in to Santa Fe and the excellent museums around the plaza. In either case, stay the night there, at classic La Fonda or more modern Hacienda Nicholas.
Take in Santa Fe’s contemporary culture, with shopping, gallery-hopping, or a visit to the Museum of International Folk Art. Round out a colorful day with dinner at Café Pasqual’s.
Head to Taos via the high road, with stops at the chapel in Chimayó, where you can also pick up some delicious tamales, and in the villages of Truchas and Las Trampas. Settle into your hotel in Taos after a de rigueur margarita at the Adobe Bar.
Start with an early visit to San Francisco de Asis Church, followed by breakfast at Ranchos Plaza Grill. Then head to the Taos Art Museum for background on the town’s art scene. Spend the afternoon at Taos Pueblo, then get a local-produce dinner at The Love Apple.
Drive the first leg of the Enchanted Circle, turning east at Eagle Nest to reach Cimarron. Lunch at The Porch, then head down to Las Vegas via I-25. Check in at the Plaza Hotel, and walk down Bridge Street and over to El Fidel Restaurant for dinner.
Today is a long day of driving, but you’ll pass through pretty old villages like Villanueva and the plains around Vaughn. Have a late lunch in Roswell, and visit the International UFO Museum & Research Center or the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art. You’re bunking down at Carlsbad’s Trinity Hotel & Suites.
Head out early to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Back in town, have dinner at Danny’s Place BBQ and take in a movie at the Fiesta Drive-In, then head back to the Trinity for bed.
Head west to Alamogordo and White Sands National Monument, winding up in Las Cruces that evening. Have dinner in historic Mesilla.
Drive up I-25 to return to Albuquerque, stopping in Truth or Consequences for coffee and a snack and a dip in the hot springs. Plan on lunch at the Owl Bar & Café in San Antonio. You should be in Albuquerque by nightfall—check out the scene downtown.
Take it easy today, and take one last look at the Southwestern scenery, either with a dawn hot-air balloon ride, or a sunset tram ride to Sandia Peak.
Fuel up for your flight with breakfast at The Frontier, where you can also grab some housemade tortillas to take home.
Excerpted from the Ninth Edition of Moon New Mexico.